Picture of an Educator by Uschi Jeffcoat

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Six years ago, I left the classroom. A year and a half ago I returned. It is a profession which keeps me connected to people, yet also allows me the luxury of time for family.

But it is not easy work

Recently, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel, the portrait takes on the aging and sins of the man. And I thought about the strength that educators show in the midst of stress. Not only theirs but also that of the students. Does the outside depict the reality?

To me, the American Robin symbolizes spring, new beginnings, children playing and hope. This image to me captures a great unsettling I feel at the moment. School shootings are becoming normal, low pay is an insult to the profession and the hours are long. In what profession does one begin their day manning a metal detector shortly before entering a classroom to shape hearts and educate minds?

So I painted all the words I feel but cannot say. Recognizing that bleeding heart conversations are damask political curtains we hang.

Keeping up with the Joneses by Uschi Jeffcoat

I love an idiom. And the culture it can capture.

"Keeping Up With the Joneses" is spot on American. To me it describes what happens when the American Dream becomes grotesque. When the pursuit of happiness and freedom leads to a warped and twisted captivity.

 Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

The idiom finds its origins in a 1913 comic strip by the same title. Arthur R. Momand was the creator and the term made its way into a few silent animations.

 Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Ranging from the accumulation of stuff that quickly loses its luster, sick social graces, self-glorifying chatter, and debt beyond measure - it is a pattern of behavior to appear on equal social-economic footing or ground.

Appearances were significant in my childhood home. I wonder if it was simply my mother's German perfectionism or her attempt to never appear "less than" our fully American counterparts?

Most recently I saw this pull within myself as my children wrestled with their college choices. Was I (or my family)  "less than" because they made one choice over another?  Did my children feel that way?

But these were essentially the accoutrements that appeal to all people who are not actually rich but who want to look rich, though all they manage to do is look like each other: damasks, ebony, plants, rugs and bronzes, anything dark and gleaming-everything that all people of a certain class affect so as to be like all other people of a certain class. And his arrangements looked so much like everyone else’s that they were unremarkable, though he saw them as something truly distinctive.
— Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

der Brombeermann by Uschi Jeffcoat

I grew up with folklore and fairy tales. 

A Brombeermann is the symbol figure of the town of Wanfried, Germany. Some say this dates back to August 30, 1608 when Wanfried became a "city". A stipulation for city status perhaps included a provision for Moritz der Gelehrte - The deliverance of blackberries in the mornings to his Schloß in Eschwege when he was in residence.

der Brombeerman

Another version includes a beautiful story.

I am reminded of mythology as I read it. You can find it in a book written by Wilhelm Pippart, first printed in 1939, titled der Brombeermann. Wilhelm Pippart was a teacher and to me his writing is delightful to read. Maybe because his writing reminds me of the manner in which I was told and read fairy tales, with vivid detail and on occasion rhyme.

book excerpt

In the introduction Wilhelm Pippart is referred to as a Heimatdichter. In English, a "regional writer" but the German word Heimatdichter denotes more a person who drafts prose, poetry and collects stories of heimat. The book is a collection of tales and poems featuring characters such as sprites, fairies, gray ladies and magical books set in woods filled with moss, waterfalls and flowering fields. 

Here is my brief and loose retelling in English:

A dwarf was watching over Frau Holle's jewels. (Her most favorite of the dwarves.) He was most intrigued by her pearl and diamond necklace. As he was playing with this magical strand, it caught upon a rosebush and broke. But where each pearl and diamond rolled - strawberries, raspberries, currants, blueberry and blackberry bushes sprouted. Blackberries in the greatest abundance. A spell had been cast.

The only way to turn them back into their original form was to gather them all by day's end and before the owl was heard. The dwarf quickly accepted this quest to make amends for his mistake. Frau Holle encouraging him to not lose courage and to arm himself with patience and endurance as he set out.

blackberries

Quickly he set out upon his way, taking a cane basket upon his back to fill. He sprinted from bush to bush claiming the berries as his basket became heavier and heavier upon his back. Then at the end of the day. As dusk approached, every berry was in the basket except for one last full blackberry which remained. As he reached to pluck it from its height, the sun set and the owl was heard. Immediately the basket which had been full emptied.

This repeated itself day after day. The dwarf became ancient. Moss grew in his hat and throughout his knee length beard. His clothes became worn and tattered. The only thing which remind new was the basket he carried upon his back. 

Each day the dwarf kept his courage and went about his task only to be baffled by day's end. Throughout this time, berries fill the land mimicing the reflective jewel tones found within the magical necklace.  

After a thousand years had passed, Frau Holle returned to the dwarf, now known as der Brombeermann- the blackberry man. Sharing his burden, she reached and picked the last berry before the owl's voice was heard. Immediately a ray of jewel like colors radiated from the basket, covering the land. Her necklace was returned to its original state. They say you could hear elves burst forth in song in celebration of the Brombermann.

It is now said that the people of Wanfried take upon themselves the diligence and perserverance of the Brombeermann. I suppose I love the story so much because it is a piece of home to me.

Wanfried

I'm sure many versions of this tale exist. This year, I had the opportunity to see and hear a portion set to music. A childhood friend composed a beautiful piece. It is written in the old dialect of Wanfried and was sung this year in the Evangeliche Kirche of Wanfried. Enjoy!

Backyard Sketch by Uschi Jeffcoat

chocolate vine

Last May, I began recording a series of sketches of the flora in my little corner of the world.

It was a self imposed project to foster appreciation and gratitude.

Personally, I needed to gain an appreciation for the part of the world I am currently planted in. In the summer months, I find rural South Carolina's nature to be highly uncivilized. Especially the heat and the snakes.

Simultaneously, I wanted to improve my drawing skills through drawing from life, while learning the names of all the items growing around me.

People in Florence, South Carolina will say that its people are its landscape. I would say that is true. Geographically speaking it is flat with many southern small town sensibilities, accented through a metropolis of azaleas, camellias and pine trees.

And so these backyard sketches have provided an appreciation for botany, gardeners, the seasons and natural order. I have loved the intricacies found in creation which I have discovered through closer study of these plants.

So in celebration of earth day, here are a few of my favorites from the past year.

This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.
— C.S. Lewis

Defined by Uschi Jeffcoat

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend. She was describing how she is motivated by concepts. Defining things in her life help her,  such as having a word for the year.

And I was thinking, "Huh, wonder what my word for right now is?"

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It has been a very focused past two months, of work. Both in and out of the studio.

I've been wondering why it's felt so intense and then I recalled what all the "day job" has experienced since January: the snow days, the flu epidemic and then the tragedy in Florida. All those items will shake up the day to day, just a little bit.

And I thought, "Hmm, I could use a good word right about now."

One of the perks of teaching is that you typically work with people who are life long learners and have wonderful knowledge to share.

So on a day, (like today) when you are feeling very bleh, because the pollen is not your friend and you know you need the energy of a Duracell Battery Factory to teach middle school kids in the Spring Time . . . you put on your most comfy flats, roll up the cuffs of the grey wool pants, and put on the softest sweater you own.

And what greets you in your hall?  YOUR word! And I quote . . .

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"You look so cute and very hygge today!"

hygge ???

(I love working with a good ELA teacher! They are some of the most insightful people I know.)

See the definition below of hygge from the Oxford University Press:

hygge

Pronunciation /ˈhʊɡə//ˈh(j)uːɡə/  noun

A quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)

So I am declaring this as the year of hygge for me. In and outside of the studio.

Continued contentment, comfort and enjoyment in what I paint and how I paint. An appreciation for the simple. Thankfulness for work and the ability to do so. And delight in that there is time for the sacred in it all. I'm saying Good-bye to Artist Angst. Hello to hygee.

knew there was a reason why I've been needing and burning through all those Carolina Wren candles! It's all been part of this hygge and the Danish way! :-)

 

Sapir-Whorf Meets the Twelve Days of Christmas by Uschi Jeffcoat

I learned a new Southern Culture term this year.

"Old Christmas"

I leave my tree up until Epiphany. You know, like the Germans do. At which a colleague of mine smiled and said, "Oh, Old Christmas." 

I learned Epiphany was also referred to as Old Christmas. In my mind, when I think of the word Epiphany I actually translate it from the German. I don't think Epiphany at all. I think in the words for the date. The 6th of January (der sechste Januar).

Even where I am determines my English word choice. In Huntsville, Alabama I probably would say the 6th of January. Specific and engineer like. But South Carolina has an entirely different language dance. (Pocketbook for Purse, Supper for Dinner etc.)

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis says that our thought processes are influenced by the structure of the language in which we are thinking. I'm not 100% sure if this is true. I wonder if geography doesn't also play into that. I do know, I feel differently about things depending on which language my mind is using. For example when I think in English about "the dirt" the dog has brought in, I'm feeling, "OK no big deal - I'll get to it." But when I'm thinking in German about "der Dreck vom Hund" all kinds of shaming bad Hausfrau feelings come at me.

All these many words to say,

How do you feel about the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Because my German brain absolutely loves them! A time for family, visiting with friends and reflection. AND even better, they come after all the shopping and gifting is done.

So during the past 12 days, I enjoyed creating my second 12 days collage series. This year I based it on the English Twelve Days of Christmas song, which will always remind me of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance Board of Directors and their holiday gathering. Never has it been sung by a finer group of folks.

It was also a time of play for me. I sat on the floor in front of my, by now pretty crunchy Tannenbaum of a tree, and cut and pasted. Just like my 2nd grade old self used to do. And it was a glorious creative escape.

Until the next day, when I could barley walk. Because apparently once you reach a certain age, sitting for hours on end on the floor - cutting and pasting, makes your body ache and incredibly sore!

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them!

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

Wishing you all a very Happy 2018!


 

What Happens to Birds During Hurricanes? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”
― Mikhail Lermontov

The photo of this bird was shared in a bird group I followed on Facebook. It was captured by someone after a recent hurricane hit the East Coast. And it immediately struck me. What does happen to birds in these storms? Where DO they go? How do they find shelter if caught in the midst of one? Why did this one not escape it?

I asked the photographer if I might use her image as a reference for a painting. She granted permission and since then, I have been immersed in the intricacies of this one's composition.

It captures so much to me.

That there is grace and beauty in dying. And yet confusion as to how a death can look so peaceful with a ballerina like pose. It doesn't seem polite.

It swells in me the grief cycle. Pirouettes and all.

*A sincere and special thank you to Marylee Newmann for permission to use her photograph that captured such a striking and moving moment as a reference image.

 

Time, Texture and a Few Thoughts by Uschi Jeffcoat

Happy Day Light Savings Time week, Americans! Funny how that one hour time change makes everything feel so weird during the first few days. The time change is giving me a little extra morning studio time before leaving for work.

Here are a few practices in watercolor texture for Fall. If you have watercolors, I encourage you to pull them out, pour a cup of tea and play.

 Saran wrap, applied on wet paint and allowed to dry

Saran wrap, applied on wet paint and allowed to dry

 Wet in to wet. Color drops allowed to blend and do their own thing.

Wet in to wet. Color drops allowed to blend and do their own thing.

 Gauze! Probably one of my personal favorites. Place upon wet paint or paint over without moving it and allow to dry

Gauze! Probably one of my personal favorites. Place upon wet paint or paint over without moving it and allow to dry

 Scratches with the end of a paintbrush

Scratches with the end of a paintbrush

 Drawn wax circles, then painted over

Drawn wax circles, then painted over

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Due to said time change, I find myself struggling to stay awake past 8 in the evening...and that leaves me thinking about time.

The realities of the time constraints working full time have been evident. But ultimately, we all have the same amount of time in each day. It's how we choose to use it that matters. 

My choices include trying to wake up early in the morning, while the moon is still out. Reading more and swimming whenever I can. (OK that's a lie, sometimes I make excuses and don't go the gym...But at least I still think about swimming on a daily basis.)

I've also recently decided I'd follow only one social media platform and let the others go.  More time offline is going to be a new luxury I gift myself this holiday season. 

The biggest struggle for me in all of this though is my inability to stop working on a task when it's time to put something down. I simply don't like to leave things unfinished. Often ignoring the constraints that time provides for the sake of balance.

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
― C.S. Lewis

Carpe Diem!